Kandiyohi County Commissioners Sign Letters of Support for Three Broadband Grant Applications – West Central Tribune
WILLMAR — It’s taken a lot longer than anyone’d like, but applications for the border-to-border broadband development grant program through the state’s Department of Jobs and Economic Development are up. finally accepted. By Thursday’s deadline, at least three of those nominations will come from Kandiyohi County.
Expanding broadband broadband has been a Kandiyohi County priority for years, but it gained even more traction during the coronavirus pandemic when working from home, remote learning and lockdowns showed. how important reliable internet access really is.
While some areas of the county have high-speed broadband access, others are considered underserved or unserved. These are the areas that the Broadband Committee of the Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission and the City of Willmar with Kandiyohi County Council and other partners focused on.
“There’s so much need and we’ve seen that during the pandemic,” County Commissioner Steve Gardner said at Tuesday’s board meeting. He sees broadband expansion as today’s rural electrification.
When the county received its more than $8 million in coronavirus relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, the council pledged to allocate about 75% of those funds to broadband. So far, the council has approved allocations to several projects across the county.
“We’ve had a lot of interest and many opportunities to roll out broadband in the county,” said Mark Boeschen, chair of EDC’s Broadband Committee.
At Tuesday’s county council meeting, commissioners approved the signing and sending of three letters of support to DEED for three different broadband projects. Border-to-Border awards grants of up to $5 million or 50% of project cost, whichever is less. This year, approximately $95 million in funds are available, thanks to an influx of cash from both the state general fund and the federal government.
The county’s main project, which is clearly stated in the letters of support, is the Kandiyohi County West project, which would bring fiber optic broadband to 645 locations in the townships of Dovre, Mamre, St. Johns and Arctander. The cost of the project is estimated at more than $9.8 million and EDC’s Broadband Committee is requesting $4.5 million from the DEED program.
“We’re asking for that 50%,” said Sarah Swedburg, business development manager at EDC. “We need every penny the state can give us.”
A public hearing for residents and businesses in the project area to learn more about this plan is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on August 15 in the lower level conference room of the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building. at Willmar.
Two other projects, led by broadband providers, also received letters of support from the board.
Charter is working on a project that would bring broadband to 347 locations in the unserved and underserved part of New London Township and small areas in Irving, Burbank and Lake Andrew Townships.
The second project is from Frontier, which, if built, would bring broadband to 450 locations in areas from Blomkest to Svea, Liliian Lake, southwest Atwater, south of Diamond Lake and certain properties north of Atwater.
“They’re not looking for money, they’re just asking for letters of support,” Boeschen said.
The board was concerned that more than one project was applying to the grant program. Boeschen said the broadband committee has spoken with the state about this specific issue.
“It won’t hurt to send three letters of support as long as you state your main project,” Boeschen said.
While the county awaited the opportunity to apply for the Border-to-Border program to help fund the Kandiyohi County West project, work continued on several other broadband projects.
There are projects completed or under construction in the areas of Hawick, Prinsburg, New London Township, the Riverwood neighborhood near New London and the Long Lake neighborhood north of Willmar. A total of 672 new locations will have access to high-speed broadband by the end of the year, which was not the case at the start of the year.
“It’s a big achievement for us,” Boeschen said.
The committee is also working on the final details of a new project in the townships of Lake Andrew and Colfax, which would serve 967 properties. It is a venture with Mediacom and is new to the committee’s project list. Further information will be communicated to the board at a future meeting.
“It just happened in the last week and a half,” Boeschen said. “It’s a beautiful and good project in this region.”
Still waiting in the wings is the massive Vibrant Wireless project, which would bring broadband to 2,084 locations in the townships of Roseville, Burbank, Irving, Harrison, Gennessee, Fahlun, Lake Elizabeth and East Lake Lillian. A US Department of Agriculture ReConnect grant application has been submitted, but no price announcement has been made. This project will need the grant to move forward.
“We are certainly gaining ground and making very good progress and I think we will continue in that direction,” said commissioner Corky Berg, who also thanked everyone involved.
It is important to move these projects forward as supply chain issues could delay construction. Boeschen said a supplier expects 13 months for fiber, and many project agreements say projects must be completed within two years. On top of that, once the state makes the border-to-border decision, another project estimated at $180 million will attempt to secure equipment and materials.
“Our committee tried to move these projects forward quickly, so we are on the front line,” Boeschen said. “Supply is going to get tight. The faster we go, the better off we’ll be in this county.”